One critical aspect of creating an appealing website is the fonts used in its development. Sure, the site layout and quality of images are the visual cues that most people notice. Choosing the right font, however, can bring the whole design together.
What happens though if you choose the wrong font?
The wrong text design can lead to an end user not having the ability to view the website as originally intended. In other words, their operating system may not have access to the fonts used in the design of the site.
This means a different set of fonts replace the original and that replacement option may not mesh as well with the rest of the website.
It could create a head-scratching experience for the end user, as they wouldn’t really know the original intent, and would more than likely just assume the designer has poor taste.
Another way to approach the issue of font selection is to consider a favorite website you regularly visit.
Let’s assume the people behind that website designed it using Fancy Font ABC. When you visit the site, your operating system does not have that font installed, and there is no web-based solution from which you can pull the font. So your viewing experience diverts to Basic Font XYZ.
Again, you may not know the original scheme, but you are definitely not viewing the site as the designer intended.
The main reason for this stems from different operating systems carrying different font sets. Apple’s OS might have the Fancy Font ABC installed, so viewing that particular website as originally intended is not a problem. A Windows computer, however, may have a different set of fonts and therefore cannot display the Fancy Font.
So how is this dilemma resolved?
Web safe fonts.
What Are Web Safe Fonts?
As the name suggests, web safe fonts are precisely that, safe. If your operating system doesn’t have access to Fancy Font ABC, it will most certainly be able to access Web Safe Font One, Two and Three.
In other words, web safe fonts are universal and installed on every operating system.
These commonly shared fonts provide web designers with the flexibility to designate which ones to use in case the user can’t access their original, less common font choice.
Let’s revisit our example.
You visit the website with Fancy Font ABC again using your Windows laptop. Your operating system doesn’t handle that font, but the web designer added code to specify that Web Safe Two will display for your system.
Thankfully, Web Safe Font Two is relatively close in design to the fancy font, so very little will be lost in the overall design of the website.
Web safe fonts ultimately amount to a second option to help maintain the original integrity of a website’s design.
Most Popular Web Safe Fonts for HTML and CSS
So now you might be wondering what are some specific examples of a web safe font?
There’s an excellent chance you’re familiar with a lot of them.
Even if you’re not a font aficionado (and there are indeed those out there who take their fonts very seriously), we bet you’ll recognize more than a few of the names on our list.
This style of font is typically considered a cleaner, more modern design versus its serif predecessor. The structure is uniform, uncomplicated and lacks the flourishing marks or serifs at the end of some of the letters and numbers.
Below is a comparison of the most common Sans Serif font, Arial, and the most common Serif font, Times New Roman, for you to get a sense of the difference between the two:
Sans Serif (Arial)
A, B, C, 1, 2, 3
Serif (Times New Roman)
A, B, C, 1, 2, 3
As you can see, the Sans Serif is far more straightforward and does not possess the artistic notes of the Serif option. Below is our list of the most widely used San Serif web safe fonts:
- Arial – The most commonly used font today. The standard for web safe fonts.
- Century Gothic – Commonly used for headers and subheaders.
- Helvetica – A more stylish and designer-friendly version of the Arial font.
- Lucida – Created with on-screen readability as its primary purpose.
- Tahoma – Good programming font that is at times an alternative to Arial.
- Trebuchet MS – An older font that was designed by Microsoft.
- Verdana – A popular choice among bloggers for its clear, easy to read design.
Serif fonts are generally more comfortable to read, primarily when used in printed materials. As we explained above, the added serifs or flourishes give each character a distinctive look and feel that’s easier to identify.
Here is the list of the most common web safe Serif fonts currently found in web design:
- Courier New – A monospace design (meaning each letter has the same width) that is an update of Courier, which was once the most widely used Serif font.
- Bookman – Also called Bookman Old Style, this Serif has a bolder design that is good for headers and subheaders.
- Garamond – Clear Serif font that has high readability and is suitable for large text blocks.
- Georgia – An easy to read Sarif in a similar manner that Verdana is an easier to read Sans.
- Times New Roman – Updated version of the Times font commonly used for newspapers and print. This incredibly popular font is the most frequently used Serif font today.
The Web Safe Font to Avoid – Comic Sans
The Comic Sans font is one that comes up quite a bit in general discussion since it is a web safe font. Very popular with designs aimed at children due to it cartoonish qualities, this font has also gained some popularity for use in some grown-up, professional materials.
However, we strongly recommend steering clear of this informal Sans Serif, which is why it gets its own standalone mention. It’s widely considered to be the web safe font you should most avoid using.
Best for Mobile Devices
With the unstoppable growth of mobile computing, one of the critical areas of web design revolve around mobile devices and ensuring what looks good on a desk or laptop screen also looks good on a tablet or smartphone.
Most designers recognize that an even higher value is placed on the use of web safe fonts when developing responsive websites or apps. It’s particularly important when you consider an end user might have a Windows laptop, an Apple iPad, and an Android Phone.
It’s with little surprise then that the following fonts are the best web safe options for mobile devices:
- Times New Roman
- Trebuchet MS
Design, particularly in modern times, centers on standing out and being unique. Web design is no different, and it’s exciting to think what’s around the corner as we keep pushing the visual limits of technology.
You’ll also want to be sure that whatever the message you want to convey, doesn’t get lost or is misunderstood when creating that design. Which is why you should place a premium on the often overlooked element of fonts and their importance in the overall look of your website.
It’s even more important in our age of responsive mobile design.
Ensuring you have a comparable web safe font as part of your site’s code is a vital part of maintaining your original ideas even if an end user can’t view the original font.